I was born in 1957. It was my mom who told me years later that in early 1960 news was spreading fast across the USA about the awful birth defects caused by pregnant women in Europe using a drug called thalidomide.
Thalidomide was a sedative manufactured by a German pharmaceutical company, widely available in Europe but never approved for distribution in the USA. The pictures of children harmed by thalidomide horrified me and my friends in elementary school in the 1960's.
Families that were harmed by the use of thalidomide, plus legal actions of several European governments, are still dealing with the aftermath of this drug today.
I never would have believed it - but thalidomide is making a bit of a comeback because this horror drug from the 1950's has some unusual properties.
Thalidomide is a chrial drug. That means the thalidomide molecule has a "left-hand" and a "right-hand" version. Both versions were created in the manufacturing process. The weird part . . . only the "left-handed" version causes birth defects, the "right-hand" version is a sedative.
Unlike that German company from the 1950's, science today can sort the two types of thalidomide molecules. The right-handed isomer of thalidomide is being studied in the treatment of various forms of cancer and leprosy!
Like the BBC in the UK, the German TV broadcaster DW-TV, (Deutsche Welle), has nevr let go of this story from the last century. Big shout out to DW-TV for it's excellent coverage of this never ending drama that may actually continue long after the victims have died! After more than 50 years, the clock is ticking faster.
Yikes! Was this used to sedate the children or the mothers?
Thalidomide eased the symptoms of morning sickness in pregnant women. For the women with sever nausea, thalidomide was effective. But the drug is also effective in blocking the development of arms and legs in the developing fetus as well as many different forms of birth defects.
It never dawned of me that this man-made horror from the 1950's would be making a comeback in the 21st century, but thalidomide is curious in its structure and function. Science is still learning a lot about this unusual drug.